Senate committee to talk sexual assault

March 9, 2013 at 4:19 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing next week on sexual assault in the U.S. military, officials said.

The hearing, set for Wednesday, will be the first session the committee has devoted to the subject in 10 years, The Washington Post reported Saturday. It comes as members of Congress voice anger over an Air Force general's reversal of pilot's sexual-assault conviction in February.

The pilot, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, was convicted in November of aggravated sexual assault for groping a guest at his home near Aviano Air Base in Italy. He was sentenced to one year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force.

Wilkerson was released from prison Feb. 26 after Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, reversed the conviction, saying it was based on "insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Several members of Congress have contested Franklin's decision and called for his dismissal.

"The appearances of this are devastating to victims of sexual assault throughout the military," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Armed Services Committee and a former prosecutor. "It looks like somebody taking care of one of their guys."

Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., called on newly appointed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review the case.

"This is a case that sends absolutely the wrong message," Shaheen said. "If we're going to continue to attract women into the military, which we need to do to have the best and brightest, then we need to address this."

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel "has made it clear that sexual assault has absolutely no place in our armed forces and must be addressed decisively."

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